Monday, July 01, 2013

Ireland Day 5: Hill of Tara and Belfast

We had an earlier start this morning, as we were starting off at the Hill of Tara, and ending up in Belfast for the evening. Everyone was on time for the bus, except for our tour leader. When the bus driver saw him come out with luggage, he exclaimed, "Oh, he's got luggage too. Naughty."

Tara was our first stop, and like many Stone Age mound sites, it was incredibly windy. Not as windy as the previous day, apparently, as our site guide said he was knocked over by the wind. There is a chapel at the bottom of the hill dedicated to St. Patrick, and contains a hand-painted window called the Pentecostal Window. The hill itself was very green, and covered with a lot of sheep crap. You can count on ancient sites being heavy on either cow or sheep crap.

There are many legends associated with the site, but the archaeological evidence doesn't really jive with most of them. The two mounds that form a figure eight were not created at the same time; one is ancient, one is closer to the early Christian period. The Stone of Destiny has been moved from its original location at the Tomb of the Hostages (which was also a tomb with over 200 burials). It was moved after the Battle of Tara in 1798, to commemorate Irish volunteers fighting the British. They are also supposed to be buried on that mound, and archaeologists' equipment does detect a mass burial there. There is a fairy tree in the area, about 500 meters from where the Stone of Destiny currently stands. It's a bit difficult to get to, so people make offerings on another tree to the fairies--usually socks or stockings.

It was too cold and windy to stay up on Tara for too long, so we got back to the bus and headed out to Belfast. Upon arriving, we had lunch and lined up for the famous Black Cab tours of the Shankill area, and Falls Road. The drivers went to different sites where we could get out and examine the murals created on both the Protestant and Catholic sides of the wall separating the communities. The wall is at Bombay Street, and was put there after Catholic homes were burned in that neighborhood. They took us to the Peace Wall, where everyone could write on the wall. Supposedly it will come down at some point, but it hasn't yet. On the other side of the wall is the memorial to the Clonard Martyrs--everyone on the Catholic side from that neighborhood, including soldiers, political leaders, and innocent bystanders. The murals were fantastic, and ubiquitous throughout the city.

Our bus driver took us around the city, to show us some more sites. It is marching season in Northern Ireland, though most of the marching is done by the Unionists these days. We did manage to see a parade of Orangemen and other Unionists on the Short Strand; police were present to avert confrontation between them and the nationalists. He told us that loyalists were extreme unionists, and that republicans were extreme nationalists. It seems like everyone was at the parade, and everything else in town was pretty empty. Our hotel was a little far out from the city center. We had a welcome drink and dinner waiting for us at the hotel, so it was a nice evening to relax and catch up with each other. Our next stop is Bundoran, which elicited the question "why are you going there?" from almost everyone. But I've heard Bundoran is a lovely seaside town, and it's a good central point for the rest of our trip.

No comments: